THE VALLEY OF DEATH • by Autumn Humphrey

The rain continued to fall as Maggie stood in front of her broken-down car, its parking lights flashing into the wet darkness. Her mind swirled with limited options as she checked her cell phone, the lack of necessary bars laughing and the beep of its imminent demise taunting her. Sit in the car and wait? Try to wave someone down? Start walking?

She ventured out onto the road, looking for any sign of lights coming in either direction. A little jolt of hope shot through her as she saw two headlights, and the mechanics in her mind started clanking. Will they stop? If they do, what if they’re weird? If it’s a van I won’t get in. If he has a goatee I won’t get in. If it’s a woman, I’ll get in. I hope it’s a woman. Please let it be a woman.

The van pulled to a stop in front of Maggie and the foggy passenger window slid down, revealing a middle aged man with a goatee sitting in the driver’s seat.

“You stuck?” His voice was raised against the pelting of the rain.

“Yeah, my car broke down.”

“Hop in, I’ll give you a ride.”

The passenger door lock popped up and Maggie flinched. A man with a goatee driving a van! Exactly what I said I wouldn’t do. This is too weird. It’s a sign. Grams always told me to listen to my gut.

The man yelled again through the sound of the rain. “It’s okay. We’ve met before, at Maxim’s. You were eating pizza with your grandmother.”

Maggie cocked her head, trying to place the man. How would he know I eat at Maxim’s with my grandmother on Sundays if it wasn’t true? But he mentioned Grams, and Grams is the one who always told me —

“Come on, missy, you’re getting soaked!”

In the pelting sound of the rain Maggie wasn’t sure if he had said, “Missy” or “Maggie”. She felt cold rivulets of water run down her neck, into her clothes, and against Gram’s advice, she opened the door of the van and slid inside. The lock immediately clicked and the window began to slide closed. The acrid smell of stale cigarette smoke filled Maggie’s lungs and she heard the radio turned low. It sounded like “Dueling Banjos”. Oh God.

The goateed man shifted into gear and started off down the dark, slippery road.

“What kind of car was that?” He didn’t look at her as he spoke.


He chuckled. “There’s an old saying. Ford stands for “Found On the Road Dead.”

Maggie managed a smile. “Yeah. I’ve heard that one.” Dead? Found on the road dead? She looked around the van for anything to use as a weapon. Is that dried blood on the floor? Is that a broken-off fingernail? Oh my god! That’s a bottle of lotion sticking out from under the seat!

“So where do you want me to drop you?” the goateed man asked before swerving a little on the wet road and correcting the van.

Maggie felt a wave of relief. Maybe he’s all right. Most people are all right, even people with goatees in vans. “At the gas station, I think.”

“I don’t think they’re open now. Where do you live? I could drop you at home.”

The wave of relief catapulted into utter horror. He wants to find out where I live! If he doesn’t murder me in the woods tonight he’ll come back to my house later and God knows what! Why didn’t I listen to Grams, why didn’t I trust my gut?

“I live pretty far, I think you should just drop me off in town.”

“You have a cell phone? You want to call someone to pick you up?”

“My cell phone died.” What was I thinking telling him my cell phone died?

The goateed man chuckled again. “You’ve had some bad luck today, haven’t you, Missy?”

“Yeah.” What does he mean by that? Is he the bad luck? On top of the car and cell phone dying, am I next? And he called me Missy, not Maggie. He doesn’t know me, he never met me and Grams at the diner!

The rain worsened, pummeling the van. The goateed man leaned forward over the steering wheel, trying to see the road. There were no lights anywhere. Outside there was only darkness. Where are we? Where are the lights from the town? We should be there by now. Where is he taking me?

The van pulled to a stop. Maggie couldn’t see where they were for the rain and darkness. Images of kidnap, rape and certain death filled her clanking mind. Before she had a chance to speak or act, the goateed man had slipped out of the van. She tried the door. It was still locked. She closed her eyes. Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for thou art with —

The passenger door opened, as did Maggie’s eyes. Standing there under an umbrella was her Grams. She could hear the goateed man’s voice through the rain. “… she seemed so scared, Ellie, I thought I should just bring her on over here.”

Autumn Humphrey has fiction pieces appearing at The Legendary, >Kill Author, Feathertale, Apollo’s Lyre and other on-line and print magazines. In her spare time she reads, writes and plays the horses.

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